You know the story about zombies. They are the walking dead. They can’t be killed.

Crack reporter Greg Windle has discovered a zombie charter school in Philadelphia.

It has been warned and warned and threatened with death, but it fails and appeals and fails and never dies.

I remember the early days of the charter movement, the late 1980s, early 1990s. Charter enthusiasts said that the great thing about charters was that they would always be accountable for results. If they didn’t keep their promise, they would promptly be closed.

How did that work out?

This zombie charter plans to fail forever and live forever. No accountability!

We now know that the charter lobbyists have made it extremely difficult to close a failing charter school. Zombies!

It takes a long time to close a charter school, and the process includes many opportunities to delay closure for years. Khepera Charter School has exhausted all but its final chance and is now appealing to the state’s Charter Appeals Board to overturn the School Reform Commission’s decision to close the school.

Khepera is a K-8 school with 450 students located in Hunting Park. It was awarded its first charter in 2004, which was renewed in 2009. After academic results declined, the charter was renewed in 2014 with explicit conditions, along with the proviso that failure to meet these conditions would lead to the closure of the school.

Many of the conditions were never met; beyond that, the school continued to violate the state charter law. Since signing the 2014 charter, the school failed to hire enough certified teachers. Growth on the PSSAs largely reversed as scores began to plummet. The school promised to revise its discipline policy and reduce student suspensions, but instead, suspensions increased, even among kindergarten students. Board members didn’t file the required conflict of interest forms. Nor did the school submit the required financial reports and independent audits.

In 2015, the SRC’s Charter Schools Office first warned Khepera that it was failing to meet the conditions. Yet the school has been operating ever since and, by all indications, plans to open for the 2018-19 school year.

Khepera’s appeal to the state essentially seeks to dismiss all charges for a variety of reasons. Its lawyers argue, for instance, that a lack of certification paperwork for a given teacher doesn’t prove that the teacher isn’t certified.

The school ignored the first “notice of deficiency” from the Charter Schools Office, sent in October 2015. The charter office sent another notice in May 2016, another in August 2016, and yet another in May 2017.

Khepera did not respond to these notices. So in June 2017, the SRC voted to begin conducting public hearings to determine whether it should revoke the school’s charter — fully two years after the school failed to meet multiple terms of its signed contract. Hearings began Aug. 10, 2017, and ended Sept. 12, for a total of seven sessions.

Then in December 2017, the School Reform Commission voted to close the charter. Case ended? No! The charter appealed to the state Charter Appeals Board, which could keep the charter open for years.


But that’s not all:

After the SRC voted to revoke the charter of Walter Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School in the spring of 2014, the school filed an appeal to the state so that it could open its doors in September for the next school year.

But when it could not pay employees, Palmer abruptly shut its doors in December 2014, stranding students mid-year and forcing the District to scramble to find places for them.

This cut short the hearings before the state Charter Appeals Board, at which administrators for the charter school had invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 77 times.

After closing the charter, Palmer, a longtime civil rights leader in Philadelphia who founded and ran his namesake school, became a consultant to Khepera, where he initially helped with recruitment. At the end of 2016, he was hired to be CEO.

Khepera’s website gives every indication that it intends to operate throughout the 2018-19 school year and is continuing to recruit and enroll new students.

Zombie walks, talks, and enrolls students even though it is a failing school.

Every failing charter in Pennsylvania can find inspiration in the story of this failing charter:

The longest charter revocation process in state history was for Pocono Mountain Charter School. It lasted six years from the initial revocation hearings to the date the school finally closed. The charter revocation hearings ran for two years, starting in 2008, and appealing to the state’s Charter Appeals Board allowed the school to remain open for three more years. Then the school appealed the state board’s decision twice to higher courts, and only closed in 2014 after it declined to file a third appeal.

Toward the end of the process, Pocono Mountain’s CEO was convicted of using the school to funnel more than $1.5 million in tax dollars to himself, his family, and his businesses. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison.

But taxpayers can take solace knowing that the charter revocation process ended after six years and the CEO was convicted. Justice is slow but sometimes happens.